In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may perceive what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
How do we know about the glory of God? I’m asking a real question, I’d love to hear a few ways it can happen. There are the things that happen to us in our own life that do it, the miracles we witness and the lives we see transformed. There are the words of scripture that testify again and again that God has and always will be with God’s people. Prayer, the feeling of assurance and connection that it brings. Each of these are some of the ways that we connect to the reality of God’s presence among us. No force is more powerful, in my opinion, than the community of faith which we are called to be a part of.
When we are called into the Church, we join something much bigger than ourselves. We are all in this room part of something together, and so are all other Christians in this town. All Christians in this town, this county, this state, this world, are all part of something far beyond ourselves. This is the Church, the body of Christ, the Communion of the Saints. Those who are saved by faith in Christ are made sacred by the grace of God working upon them. The Greek faithful called these people, Ἁγιας, “Holy Ones,” and through a series of translations we called those same people “Saints.”
We usually use the term Saint, in protestant contexts at least, to refer to those who have died and are present with God. We in our earthly existence are still prone to sin, only a few of us being perfected so as to avoid all intentional sin. Yet, even the most perfect human will fall short of the mark somewhere along the line. Only when we experience death are we fully cleansed of the effects of sin, exposed fully to the sanctifying grace of God which grows into a glorifying presence within us. Our souls, awaiting the perfection of the physical self, go beyond us and become present with God, we enjoy the state between death and resurrection with all those who went before us. We live in peace, fully and truly, with one another.
The life of the dead in Christ is something we can never fully comprehend. We can imagine what Heaven may be like, but scripture gives us very little to work on. Oftentimes scripture uses the image of Jerusalem, an idea more than it is a city in much of the history of God’s people. This city upon a hill represented the hope of a return from exile, the end of the long walk from Egypt into Canaan, and a place where all people might someday meet to find the God that had created and adored them. Yet, we cannot see Heaven as just a city, not a municipal power with roadways and sidewalks, and plumbing. This is just one way of understanding the future of God’s people.
When God’s throne is described, the image is far more abstract. Gemstones take on unnatural tones and stretch across miles, while many faced cosmic entities praise the flaming presence of God at the center of reality. The locus upon which everything turns, radiating heat and light and life itself. This image screams opulence, it screams power, it testifies to the inexplicable nature of the divine. Yet, it is still just another way of describing something we cannot yet grasp.
Our eternity with God is described more helpfully in terms of family. We are adopted by God, we are adopted into Abraham’s lineage, we are adopted as Children of the Most High and Siblings of Jesus Christ. Alongside our new relations, we have all the believers who have ever lived. We celebrate together, we weep together, until all things are set right, we suffer the troubles of life together. The joy of Heaven, mixed with the melancholy that it is not yet joined to Earth, that is the nature of the people of God until all things are set right with Christ’s final victory over sin and death.
The hardest part of losing someone we love to death, as people of faith, is not often a complete feeling of loss. We have hope in the life that comes after this one, so we do not give in completely to despair. Yet, we cannot deny the complete separation that death brings. One moment you are living your life with someone, making plans, putting off phone calls, skipping a social event, enjoying meals together, or sitting in comfortable silence. We both take for granted and fully appreciate people in equal measure throughout our life. Death, shuts off the potential to grow into that. The whole rest of our life we are spent with that relationship left off wherever it was.
We cannot, in the face of eternity, pretend that later there will be enough time to make up what we do not do here. There are some friendships I did not treat well in college, people who I pushed away, and later reconciled with. Those friendships were not able to just go back to how they were, nor will they ever. We grew apart over that time, and we grew separately into better and different people. Those who are with God, likewise grow, more merciful, more loving, more accepting. They will embrace us when the time comes, they will be better than earthly people are at picking up where we left off. However, we can avoid those issues if we treat each other well now.
We all have regrets, we should not cling to them for those who are gone. They will find us, they will have ample forgiveness and absolve many things that we feel guilt over that they never thought of. For the living though, our responsibility is much plainer. Next week we will tackle some of what that means, to live together in mutual love and respect. For now, let today be a reminder that while our life in Christ does not end, we have no excuse to use that not to treat one another well on this side of eternity. There will come a time where we cannot meet up and enjoy a meal, or apologize for the sins we committed intentionally or accidentally. The time to ask forgiveness, and give it, is now. The time to grow closer together in love, is this very moment.
What example do we have in this? Why, the example of the saints who went before us. We all know people we loved who are with God now. They taught us how to be good, how to love, and forgive. Also, probably, they taught us a fair share of bad habits too. However, the glory of God is not shown through most anything except other people. I see the glory of God when I look in the face of another person, and I see their humanity. Irenaeus put it this way, “The glory of God is a living person, and the life of a person is in beholding God.” The dead see God face to face, we see as in a mirror darkly, but all of us bask in that glory.
Today, as we observe All Saints Day, we testify to the people who have gone before us. We remember that life has an end, and that we only have so much time to make things right before God must step in and do so. No one owes us the restoration of a relationship, but we can choose to be part of that healing. We can practice in many ways, but continuing the legacy of those who came before us is a good way to testify God’s goodness. Whenever I care for my family, I do so with the lessons my grandfather gave me close to my heart. Whenever I lose hope in love, I remember a woman I once knew who, despite not understanding the things that had come between her and her child, did everything she could to understand and love him.
In gathering at this table today, we are joined with those we have lost. They testify to the grace of God, so as to absolve us of any guilt we feel about how we treated them. They testify to the goodness of God, so as to inspire us to be better now. They show us that God has rectified the gap even between life and death itself, so that we can reach out and do what we can to fix any relationship that might be broken in this life. Christ has set a table for the living, those alive on earth and alive in Paradise. May we who feast today do so as people with hope, people who want to love each other more fully, and people who want to leave a legacy of love and peace that we might leave as an inheritance to all who come after us. – Amen.